The Difficulty of Celebrating the Term “Hispanic”

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ANDREW BEECHER/THE OBSERVER

To appreciate a Hispanic identity, a careful consideration of its brutal past and contentious present is essential.

By ALEJANDRA GARCÍA, Staff Writer

Although it was theoretically established to provide a space for Latino and Hispanic individuals to celebrate themselves — and to be celebrated by those outside of their communities — as a Mexican woman, it is difficult for me to support Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) fully. During this month, I appreciate that many Latino and Hispanic artists, filmmakers, journalists and other notable figures are praised in HHM programming. It is nice to get one month out of the year to feel not entirely invisible in the media. What I don’t appreciate is when non-Latino people patronize Latino and Hispanic cultures by trying to connect to us through offensive stereotypes. This is often veiled under the motive of being an ally or someone who “gets it.”

It is not acceptable to celebrate hundreds of distinct cultures by eating tacos and spicy food. (For one, taco shells are an American invention.) Latin America is home to many different cultures with many different foods and traditions. Among different subcultures, we listen to different kinds of music, wear different clothing, style our hair differently and more.

Hosting Mexican fiestas and wearing sombreros, zarapes and stick-on mustaches is blatantly racist and disrespectful. Oh, and greeting your Latino/Hispanic co-worker with an enthusiastic “Hola amigo!” isn’t cool either. Don’t do it.

When asked about the term Hispanic and about HHM in general, I find it hard to give an answer that completely supports either subject. As a Mexican woman, I identify as both Latina and Hispanic; it only makes sense, right? Mexico is in Latin America, and I’m Hispanic because I speak Spanish and have Spanish lineage.

But the Hispanic label is a difficult one to claim. It is rooted in the genocide of countless indigenous cultures in Latin America by Spanish conquistadors who forced their language into the mouths of the few indigenous peoples that survived their ruthless conquest. The introduction of Hispanic culture into Latin America was inherently evil as it necessitated the obliteration of indigenous languages, practices, cultures and people.

It is sometimes difficult to take pride in a culture bloodied by the avarice and brutality of Spanish conquistadors. Mexico is the country I love most; it is the country where I feel the most rooted and at home. And yet it is drastically different from its indigenous, pre-colonized state. The buildings that line the road, the garments that clothe Mexican people and the very language that we speak reflect the European influence that Latin America was forced to adopt.

When considering the label “Hispanic,” I cannot detach this history from the terminology or, ultimately, from my identity. Hispanic Heritage Month has become a time for me to reflect upon colonialism in Latin America, its irreparable effects and its integration into my identity and that of so many other Latino peoples.

HHM is important because it calls to mind the long-lasting and harmful effects of colonialism. The erasure of rich indigenous cultures is felt today, but it is not remembered by enough people. My hope for this month and beyond  is for people within and outside of the Latino community to become more educated on the colonization of Latin America — to understand how pained the history of Latin America has been and continues to be because of the notion that the European way of life is not only preferable but indeed superior to that of indigenous cultures.

The disregard I see for this history is widespread and detrimental to the few indigenous cultures that are left in Latin America. It is critical that we honor indigenous Latin American cultures as well as those that have been completely lost by learning about Latin American history and refusing to see indigenous cultures as inferior.

What you can do to celebrate HHM — apart from actively listening to HHM-focused programming — is educate yourself on issues concerning Latino and Hispanic people that aren’t often discussed. Research indigenous cultures that were obliterated by European colonization of Latin America, as well as the few indigenous cultures that still exist. Listen to Latino and Hispanic people when they share their experiences with you, and do not attempt to inject your own experiences and identities into theirs.